Nick Cave on the impact of the “cultural sea change” facing women, and the inspiration of his wife Susie

"I feel that they are in danger of eroding those bright edges of personhood, and grinding them down into monotonous identity politics"

Nick Cave has spoken out about his approach to songwriting in light of the “cultural sea changes” facing women, as well as the inspiration of his wife Susie Bick.

The Bad Seeds frontman was writing on his recently-launched website The Red Hand Files, on which he replies to questions and letters from fans. After recently responding to questions about Grinderman’s potential reunion and sharing some touching advice regarding the death of his son, Cave has now discussed attitudes towards women in his songs.

One fan asked Cave: “How have the topics of women, consent, and relationships in general changed in your works during the cultural sea changes (such as the one we are experiencing now)?”, adding that they believed Cave “addressed women with adoration, irreverence, worship, disdain, respect, horror, empathy” as “a supporter of women, female artists, and a bit of the misandry”.

Nick Cave Marianne
Nick Cave interviews Marianne Faithfull

Cave replied saying that women were “a singular obsession” in his work, and that the “songs draw the disdain of certain people who believe that the way I represent women in my songs is reductive and objectifying and somehow does insult to the notion of womanhood”. He argued that he did not want current events in the discussion of gender and equality in the wake of the #MeToo movement to see women trading in their “wildness” and idiosyncrasies to “grind them down into monotonous identity politics”.

The former Birthday Party singer went on:

“The truth is I have very little understanding of women at all, they remain deep mysteries containing multitudes – and this is exactly why I enjoy writing about them. It is their feral energy and their seemingly limitless capacity for wonder that, for me, is their undying attraction, both on the page and off. Twenty years on and I am still trying to define Susie, my wife, in song, but it’s a losing battle. I have come to see that there is a wild and mercurial energy within her that my words will never contain, and that this bright energy is connected to her own singular and restless fascination with the world. It has little to do with me.

“As to the recent “cultural sea changes” affecting women, I feel that they are in danger of eroding those bright edges of personhood, and grinding them down into monotonous identity politics – where some women have traded in their inherent wildness and sense of awe, for a one-size-fits-all protestation against a uniform concept of maleness which I’m not sure I recognise.

“Whatever happened between us, it saddens me that something of our individual nature has disappeared into the divide, our unique voices are being worn down and everyone is communicating within the safe and strident anti-wonder of grievance politics.

“As to whether this cultural sea change would make me more cautious with what I write, well, I’m not sure. It feels like time itself serves as a sort of corrective and there are lyrics I wrote back then which I simply wouldn’t write now, just as my younger self would probably look at what I write now and roll his crazed and blood-shot eyes in scorn. I would hope that the general shift in my lyrics is towards a compassion that is human by nature, rather than tribal. That is not divisive or exclusionary, but for everyone. I hope that some of the songs may even draw on that fierce feminine energy – a particular energy I witness when I perform on stage – and also that special sense of female wonder.”

Nick and Susie Cave

The singer-songwriter and author also spoke out on the extent as to which his wife Susie is his muse, admitting that “Once I married Susie, I set about trying to capture her”.

“To write about Susie feels like trying to break a code that is constantly rearranging itself,” he wrote. “Most of the time, I fail. My songs end up as scraps of paper rustling around the feet of a sixty-foot woman.”

Cave went on to say that he never shows Susie or anyone a lyric until a song is completed and recorded, before listening to the track together becomes “part pleasure, part terror” for them both.

“It is difficult to exaggerate how much I care what she thinks and, of course, she knows that I do,” Cave continued. “I suspect the pressure on her at this moment is immense as she navigates the terminal insecurities of her husband.”

He added: “Yet the music plays, and the songs come to the rescue and Susie falls inside them and loses herself and sometimes they even get the tears rolling. And there is the pleasure! I suspect some of those tears are tears of relief. Mine are.”

Earlier this year, Cave started work on the new Bad Seeds album – described by Susie as ‘his fever songs’.

The band also paid tribute last month after Bad Seeds pianist Conway Savage passed away at the age of 58.

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